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Why Did My Plant Die?

This is the place to read Ketzel's advice to readers' most harrowing gardening challenges from whitefly eradication and lawn alternatives to bulb care. No matter where you keep your garden, check out the resources available to you locally. Find a shady spot and maybe a helping hand in the Talking Plants Gardens and Arboretums map of the United States.

Archive
Here's the Vast and Cavernous Archive of Enquiry that the Doyenne has already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Twisted Gingko
  • African Violets
  • Fungus Gnat Deterrence
  • Down With Slugs!
  • Indoor Mandevilla
  • Escape from Lawn Tyranny

    Twisted Gingko

    Dear Doyenne,
    I planted an 8-foot-tall young Gingko tree about six months ago. The top of the tree leans slightly to the side instead of growing straight up. This section would be between 6-7 feet up. The top foot of the tree has started to grow a little straighter, but is still leaning and seems somewhat flexible. The rest of the trunk is straight. Should I just leave it be and hope it eventually grows in the right direction, or if I should try to straighten it? What do you recommend? If I straighten it, how do I do it without damaging the tree?
    FCA

    FCA,
    I wouldn't worry about the tree being misshapen; ginkgo trees grow rather awkwardly when they are young. Chances are it will probably straighten out with age. Best to wait and see.

    All the best, KL

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    African Violets

    Dear Doyenne,
    How do nurseries get all their African Violets to bloom at the same time?

    Most perplexed,
    Tesa

    Tesa,
    African violets are easy to raise in greenhouse conditions provided that they are treated with consistency. That means a stable, warm air temperature of 65 to 75, water that is no colder than 65 and regular applications of liquid fertilizer. The best way to grow them at home is to duplicate these conditions as best as you can. Always water them with slightly warm water (run the water JUST until you feel it begin to warm), add liquid fertilizer to the water at half the recommended dose, and use it every time you water.

    Best of luck, KL

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    Fungus Gnat Deterrence

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have a houseful of once-beautiful plants. One day I found them infested with little flying bugs, and believe me, they are bugging me to no end! I have tried insecticidal soap, and more recently a systemic variety. Nothing seems to off these creatures. I'm about to throw all my plants away and start over! Any tips before I do the extreme?

    Thanks,
    Sharon

    Sharon,
    Wait! Fungus gnats thrive in open soil around the base of plants. The best way to control them in your house is to mulch the tops of the pots of your plants with small rock. Pea gravel or aquarium gravel works particularly well.

    Best, KL

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    Down With Slugs!

    Dear Doyenne,
    What is the most humane way to kill slugs?

    Thanks,
    Jane

    Jane,
    A product called Sluggo, or the equivalent, that contains iron phosphate with bait additives. It's not humane, it's just safer for all other animals in the vicinity. I don't know if slugs suffer less this way than dying any other (clipped in half, squashed under your heel, drowned in beer, dropped in salt, tossed in the road and run over by cars). Bottom line, it's all pretty ugly. The trade-off is yours to make.

    Enjoy, KL

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    Indoor Mandevilla

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live on the coast of Massachusetts north of Boston. I bought a four-foot mandevilla at the end of the season hoping I could overwinter it in my home. It's losing some leaves. What should I be doing to keep it going until spring 2002?

    Thanks for any help,
    Marguerite

    Marguerite,
    The mandevilla is reacting to the much lower light levels and humidity in your home. Unless you have a heated greenhouse it will decline somewhat during its period indoors. Remove spent leaves and cut off any dieback that occurs. You simply want the plant to survive over the winter so that it can resume growth and flowering next year outside. Put it in the sunniest place you can find, away from central or wood heat and water it only when it becomes dry. Because Mandevilla bloom on "new" wood you can prune it as often as you like.

    Enjoy, KL

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    Escape from Lawn Tyranny

    Dear Doyenne,
    I need some advice on minimum lawn care. My wife and I are buying a house and I remember a program on NPR that said that conventional lawns were environmentally unfriendly. Is there a way to improve the appearance of my new home in Eastern N.C. without a lawn?

    Thanks,
    Clayton

    Clayton,
    Lawns environmentally unfriendly? Is the surface of the sun kind of warm? Well-manicured lawns require more water, maintenance and money to keep up than a landscaped garden, so you'd better believe the less grass to mow, the better!

    Start with a small area of your lawn (somewhere that leads your eye to the front door) and make a garden bed. If you're not sure of a shape, move a garden hose around until you find curves/lines you like. Make sure the curves flow smoothly. Plant a tree, add ground cover, add some bulbs. Voila! a low-maintenance garden. The key is to start small so you are not overwhelmed and can see the results of your labors.

    I'd also drive around and look for neighbors who've achieved the effects you like and talk to them. In fact, crib all the local advice you can find: good garden centers, your USDA extension service, botanic garden or arboretum. Most important, keep an eye out for landscapes that catch your eye and note why.

    Enjoy, KL

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